Body Odors – How Not to Offend

One of my jobs as an image consultant and trainer is to be honest with my clients; to tell them the truth about their body type, speaking voice, manners, attitude, grooming, clothing choices and communication style.  I pride myself on being diplomatic and sensitive to people’s feelings, as all of these issues are quite personal and can “hit close to home.”  The issue of body odor is an especially delicate one and companies often ask me to handle it for them, as it is usually easier to hear from an outsider.  So just in case this might be an issue for you, someone you live with, work with or supervise, here is what I’ve learned about this delicate issue.

Body odor is most often caused by the breakdown of bacteria on the surface of the skin. When one perspires, bacteria begin to replicate in the warm, moist areas of the body. They quickly multiply and then die, releasing an odor to the atmosphere as they decompose.  Medical doctors agree that the best way to rid a body of its odor is to scrub the skin thoroughly. It is this scrubbing action that removes the odor-causing bacteria; in fact, the type of cleansing agent used actually makes little difference. To control body odor, bathe or shower once a day, scrubbing thoroughly, then apply deodorant and/or antiperspirant. One might not think it would be necessary to belabor the point, but complaints are on the rise in the workplace about inadequate personal hygiene and resultant body odor.

There may be other causes of body odor at work as well. Renal (kidney) failure and liver failure can produce pungent odors that the sufferer may not even be aware of.  If either of these organs, the major filters of the body, begins to fail, toxic fluids back up and are released through the pores of the skin as well as through the breath. Certain foods can also exude odors through the pores of the skin; garlic and asparagus have reputations for leaving their “mark” for more than twenty-four hours on those who ingest them.

Depression can be another cause of body odor. When one is depressed, an indifference to self-care can often be observed, not only in terms of bathing, but of clothing, grooming, and hair care as well. The astute observer will look for these additional signals of self-care indifference when noting body odor. In this case, professional counseling is usually appropriate.

Differing perceptions and tolerance of body smells may also be a mark of cultural or religious distinctions. For instance, some conservative and orthodox religions observe holidays that dictate no bathing. On the other hand, Islam places a great emphasis on cleanliness. Muslims are required to bathe some or all of their body before each of the five daily prayers. Supervisors, coworkers, and policies alike must be sensitive to these differences. Many Europeans believe U.S. Americans have absurd attitudes about cleanliness and that we are “hyperclean.” In many cultures, a little body odor is considered natural and does not offend.

Like body odor, foot odor is the product of excessive perspiration and the resulting bacterial decomposition. It may not be life threatening or incapacitating, but it can be upsetting to both afflicted and coworkers alike. Daily hygiene teamed with efforts to normalize the sweat glands should control the odor. Wash feet twice a day in lukewarm water and apply an astringent between the toes and other areas that exude excess perspiration. Soaking feet in water mixed with either vinegar or Epsom salts can also be effective. A dusting of talcum, cornstarch, or a medicated foot powder directly on the skin and in the shoes can help as well.

Select good quality absorbent, light-colored socks with low nylon and spandex content, as they will absorb moisture and allow for evaporation. Change socks midway through the day if they become damp. Use absorbent liners when wearing nylon stockings. Shoes made of plastic, rubber, or hard leather can cause excessive perspiration to accumulate; choose shoes made of porous materials. Alternate shoes from day to day to allow each pair to air out and dry.

Other remedies can be tried under a doctor’s supervision. Topical antiperspirants that contain aluminum chloride may be prescribed to reduce perspiration. A topical antifungal agent may also be used to suppress fungi and bacteria. The application of a topical antibiotic, such as erythromycin, has also been shown to decrease bacteria, but should only be used under the direction of a qualified foot specialist.

© 2017 Jill Bremer  All rights reserved.

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